The theories of academics such as Robin Lakoff are often discounted by other linguists for being irrelevant and as I believed, not representative of my and many other women’s language use in modern society. In the 70’s she came up with ideas such as verbal hygiene, the belief that women avoid offending others and use euphemisms rather than sexual or demotic language such as swearing. And, at first, I felt that these beliefs had been eradicated, as many magazines print suggestive content regularly and are often under scrutiny for being over-sexualised. This was until I saw a goose bump inducing example of a euphemism in Glamor magazine which said (“getting naughty between the sheets”) in an article advising women on how to improve their body confidence. This echo of a Carry On film (followed in my mind by Kenneth Williams distinct “ooh matron”) made me realise that the female writers of these articles are still emulating these dreadful stereotypes to their female audiences.
These theorists, who were researching, (in Lakoff’s case) over 40 years ago and worryingly have yet to be proved wrong by any other linguist. And, recently, a prominent researcher said she found no issue with Lakoff’s findings, who, may I remind you, observed students to gather her information and, as we all know, students are obviously an accurate window to female and male communication. You may, like I do question this research because you can see clearly the ridiculousness of the concept of things such as ‘verbal hygiene’ but are magazines accurate when portraying female communication? Is this how women really talk? The age of these theories, and the fact they are still considered accurate, worries me tremendously. But what concerned me more than anything was that every article I looked at for research from Closer, Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazine was written by a woman, a writer who appears to be spreading this poisonous ideal of the perfect woman to many loyal readers on a weekly basis.
The worrying presence of stereotypes within these pieces stretches to more recent theories from the 90’s. The concept of ‘bitchy’ women is something many wrongly believe is an honest representation of all women. I do, however, confess to having partaken in some friendly ‘bitching’ but I will maintain that men act like this too. It is called “judging”, a typical human behaviour. But these examples of language, which Deborah Jones’s termed ‘bitching’, occur frequently in the Closer articles especially, inciting hatred from the reader towards “confident and beautiful” women who have the audacity to walk by you or “sit next to you on the bus.” This not only assumes that, as Jones hypothesized, all women use bitching to fortify relationships with each other and, in turn, writers are using this language to appeal to their audience with language they believe they use. It also demonises other women because they are not seen as “real women” but inhuman and as Closer puts it, they should be “safely contained”. This destructive belief reverses all of the attempts and progress to eradicate the negative and archaic stereotypes of the ‘typical’ woman that are still relevant in our believed ‘modern’ society.
In the end it appears that modern magazines aimed at a female audience are stuck in the seventies, not only with the content of magazines that are telling us to look certain ways and dress to make us look slimmer, all while advertising the latest diet craze to us. But we are also communicating in exactly the same way as we did all those years ago. We could say in their defence that it may not be female writers but magazine standards that are dictating this stereotype and my dislike for these women is unjust. That the revolution I am inciting should be against the ‘man’ and we should take down the big corporations and their attempts to brainwash readers to buy their latest moisturiser. And, I truly hope this is the case but something tells me it is society that is the issue and these women are adhering to something we all should despise and try to change. But maybe as many ignorant people argue, I should just “get over it” and accept society for what it is, unjust and unfair and I should just submit to the high standards women are meant to uphold. And with that I am very sure I left my heated rollers next to my copy of The Good Wife Guide.
By Emma Smith